The Blog with No Name

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: March 2006

March saw much discussion of photography, including Flickr memes and the Flickl exhibition in Bristol. It also saw the formalisation of Standard Routemaster Units, the resurrection of British rail's nuclear-powered flying saucer, and a bit of snow.

Meanwhile, my DVD player gave up the ghost, I failed to get my car fixed, and I found myself grumbling about advertising again.


Ah - the BBC have filled in the gaps in their scheduling. We get the whole of the previous series of Doctor Who on BBC Three starting on April the 6th, a Doctor Who night on April the 9th, and (so I hear) the new series starting on BBC1 on Easter Saturday. Excellent.


Several people this week asked me when I was going to get round to producing an RSS feed for this site, so I have thrown together a very quick and dirty xml feed which should be up and running right now. The link's at the top of the page.

Now all I have to do is figure out an easier way to do this than hand-editing it in notepad.


There's a large hole in BBC1's programme listings (as supplied by Digiguide, anyway) for the early evening of Saturday, April 8th. The hole then migrates to BBC Four for the remainder of the night. Given that BBC Four will be showing old episodes of Doctor Who all next week (starting with the Jon Pertwee story involving giant maggots that gave me the heeby-jeebies as a teenager) I've a sneaking suspicion that it might be because that's when the new series of Doctor Who will start. I hope so.

So far, we know that upcoming episodes will feature all manner of interesting guest stars, including Peter Kay. Can you imagine Brian Potter as Davros? The mind boggles.


Can you become allergic to electricity? It's an interesting idea, and when I used to walk under the crackling pylons down the road from my old house in Milton Keynes and feel my skin start to itch I found the idea that you could develop sensitivity to electromagnetic fields quite plausible. On the other hand, was this just a psychosomatic reaction from hearing those fizzing wires?

The story's not new - I can remember reading one book on the subject a good ten years ago, and I'm sure the subject won't go away. I think there might be some misinterpreted "science" in the web article, though: I'm not sure what a "biologically active electromagnetic field" might be...

STANISLAW LEM 1921 - 2006

Stanislaw Lem, the Polish author of many science fiction and fantasy novels, including Solaris, which has been filmed three times, has died.

Lem had a unique voice in science fiction - what little I've read of his work had a surrealist, fantastical edge. Yes, I know that doesn't really help to describe his work, so think along the lines of Ray Bradbury, possibly crossed with Buster Keaton. Lem had a delightful sense of the absurd, which might be why he was chosen to translate the works of American SF writer Philip K Dick into Polish; PKD didn't believe Lem was a real person at all, and wrote to the FBI telling them so.

The world will be a little less weird after today.


Wow. As of this morning, my photostream on Flickr has now been viewed over a thousand times since I set it up in September last year. I find that absolutely amazing - particularly when you bear in mind that I have less than 200 pictures stored out of a total count that's now well in excess of 100,000,000 images.


I'm beginning to suspect that the days of access to useful Internet search engines may be numbered. Is it just me? In the last few months I've carried out a number of searches using Google and found that the first couple of pages of results contained nothing but adverts for stores claiming they sold whatever it was that I'd just typed as a search string.

Getting the results you want from a search has always required a certain amount of common sense, but (if I say it myself) I've always managed to get by. In fact, last year I put together a page giving some tips for improving the success of your searches. I'm usually pretty good at finding a web page (if one exists) with the information I'm looking for. But in the last six months I've noticed that I'm getting back more and more results that are just trying to sell me something. What's really annoying is that many of these are obviously automatic responses along the lines of "We've got the best selection of (whatever it is you're looking for) right here!" Given the esoteric stuff that I blog from time to time, this leads to some wildly inappropriate claims. I had one shop happily offering to sell me the heat death of the Universe, for instance. Another site offered me the best possible prices on gamma ray bursts. You see a lot of those on sale in Sainsbury's, after all...

Google can be classed as a software agent - its role is to find what you need and present it to you, neatly formatted and in a readily accessible state. Some people reckoned such things would be trouble, right from the outset. Some of the objections were prompted by a perceived devaluation of the user's involvement in the search process, but for others, commercial influences were already being viewed with a jaundiced eye. Back in 1995, Jaron Lanier envisioned a world where, "if info-consumers see the world through an agent's eyes then advertising will transform into the art of controlling agents, through bribing, hacking, whatever. You can imagine an 'arms race' between armour-plated agents and hacker-laden ad agencies. Lovely." From the reults I've got from Google recently, it looks like that vision is coming to pass.


I've blogged it before, and no doubt I'll do so again - but today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a picture of one of the most fascinating objects in the universe: the star (actually it's probably a binary system) called Eta Carinae. About 150 years ago, this star (which is only visible in the southern hemisphere, so I've never seen it for real) belched out a tremendous couple of bubbles of gas. The outburst in the 1840s reportedly made it one of the brightest objects in the southern sky. It's since died down again, but looking at the APOD picture, Eta Carinae is clearly in a whole lot of trouble - a sign that, perhaps, it's about to turn in to a supernova.


The BBC reports that people aren't using handwriting to communicate much any more. Oh, and the same story also reports the news that, actually, people spend more time watching TV or listening to the radio than they do using the Internet. Even for the BBC news website, its a story with remarkably little content or comment. People don't write as much as they used to. But the good news is they still watch TV and listen to the radio. Er, and that's it.

What's the point they're trying to make? I think if I'd spent £1 million on getting that information, I'd want a damn sight more detail. It's particularly infuriating as the story appears to have been prompted by a study commissioned in part by the BBC, so that's my TV licence money they've been spending so productively. You'd think they'd explain why they were reporting the statistic, even if it was solely to justify that sort of expenditure.

It's also interesting as the Guardian were reporting a couple of weeks ago that people spend more time online than they do watching the telly - and I blogged that earlier this month!

The decline is described as being caused by "the rise in email and text messaging." What, so people have given up doing all the other things we used to use writing for? What else did the research show? Is the standard or legibility of handwriting also in decline? Was it possible to identify specific reasons why handwriting might be in decline, such as changes in business practices or teaching methods over the last twenty years or so? Was the decline more notable in specific age groups? Is it accelerating, or slowing down? And what was the point of the story in the first place?


The Guardian has an article by Bristol legend Banksy on the decision by Melbourne's council to overpaint most of the city's graffiti in advance of the commonwealth games, and what implications it might have for London's approach to the 2012 Olympics.

Graffiti is a difficult and touchy subject. Most of it is appalling, ugly, nasty stuff and deserves to be painted over at the ealiest opportunity. In most places, daubing or spraying paint can't be anything other than vandalism, pure and simple. But there are a few people out there, Banksy being the most well-known, who create something that's often thought-provoking and rewarding in spaces where the potential for damage is limited, such as advertising billboards, abandoned doorways, or unedifying concrete monstrosities; it could be argued that their work only enhances the objects on which they appear. But that argument is far from settled - so it's going to be interesting to see what happens between now and 2012.


I'm still pondering the recent story of the folks who succeeded in running Windows XP on an iMac.

The reason I'm pondering is this: with Apple going over to an Intel-based platform, it's obviously become a lot easier to get Windows software running on an iMac. But let's turn that round. Does this also mean that it's going to become a lot easier to run Apple's OsX or its successor on my PC? O'Reilly seem to think so - in a window, at least. But how much effort would it take Apple to produce software you could install on a non-Mac machine and get rid of Windows altogether?

Oh, and I was salivating this morning at the news that Dell have bought the high-end PC company AlienWare. An Alienware spec machine at a Dell price? Now you're talking.


It was budget day today, and the chancellor has targeted four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicles for a hefty increase in tax. But the BBC's feature on 4x4s surprised me, because in their quiz I only got one question right. As for me, I'm thinking about getting rid of the Mercedes and getting another Toyota. Even before today's announcement that the most environmentally friendly cars would be subject to zero rate duty, one of the cars at the top of my list was their electric/petrol hybrid, the Prius. After all, it does nearly seventy miles to the gallon!

Oh, and one thing's for certain - the BBC's servers were running flat out once the budget speech got under way. The BBC news website slowed down to a crawl. I wonder how many people were looking at the site this lunchtime to see how much he'd put on booze and fags?


There's an article about goths in the Guardian today which concludes with an amusing list of tell-tale signs that one of your colleagues may be of the Gothic persuasion. It also includes a great little anecdote involving Andrew Eldritch from ultimate goth band The Sisters of Mercy. I was amazed to see that they're touring again. I wonder if I can get tickets?


I read some very sensible comments about the current debate over creationism and its proposed presentation in schools today. What surprised me was that they were spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He doesn't think that creationism should be taught in schools:

"Whatever the biblical account of creation is, it's not a theory alongside theories..."

Given the comments by some fundamentalist elements in America, it's nice to see that there are still people like the Archbishop out there who understand what a scientific theory actually is. I'm sick and tired of the rantings of the crowd dismissing evolution with the ridiculous line of "it's just a theory." That's about as convincing a counter argument as standing with your hands over your ears shouting "I'm not listening..."

Why? Well, there's an important thing to remember about what a scientific theory does. A theory provides a way to predict future events by looking at how things have happened before and figuring out what caused them. Then, when the same (or similar causes) are about to crop up again, and your explanation is true, you should be able to say what will happen before it happens. In other words, a theory lets you make predictions, and you can check those predictions to see if they come true. If they do, then your theory stands a fair chance of being right. It's as simple as that.

Note that bit about predicting how something will turn out. It's important. Belief systems don't go in for this sort of thing, partly because they tend to explain things by saying that events occur thanks to the supernatural intervention of a deity with his (or her, or its) unknown agenda but mostly because there's the risk that their predictions might turn out to be incorrect. That would be embarrassing, and the amount of belief involved might start to decrease. On the other hand, despite what you might have heard, scientists find that getting things wrong is actually quite exciting, because it means that what's going on is likely to be more interesting than current theories predict.

However much people claim to the contrary, a belief system - and I'm thinking particularly of creationism here - isn't a theory at all in the scientific sense of the word.

Let's expand that. Creationism isn't a theory. It's a story or metaphor used to explain past events, although, as explanations go, "God did it" is distinctly lacking. More importantly, it offers absolutely no means of predicting future events.

At which point, let's return to the words of Dr. Williams, who continues:

"So if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories. It's not what it's about."


He goes on to make a number of other comments which sound very much as if he believes the current fracas over the teaching of alternatives to evolutionary theory in schools could actually end up damaging religion more than not teaching them; I know just what he means. Some of the people currently touting their views as material worthy of compulsory education aren't the best advert for organised religion, are they?


The Guardian's David Watkins has been writing about the impact that blogging has had on large businesses. I've been thinking about this quite a bit today - mainly because after talking about Hutber's Law yesterday, I spent this morning trying to get Word 2003 on my office computer to do what I wanted it to. I did - but it took nearly fifteen minutes going back and forth over a document before I got it formatted in a way that both it and I were happy to accept.

For the technically minded (the rest of you can skip this paragraph) it had to do with the way Word 2003 handles the positioning of graphics within a document. Microsoft have abandoned the old approach of frames, which let you denote a space for a graphic, add a few callouts, and then save the image as a single element that can be flowed with text. With my home copy of Office, which isn't as up to date, I'd have been able to do this without thinking. But this morning I spent a good five minutes wondering what on earth was going on. I then took another five or ten minutes trying to find a relevant subject in Word's online help system before I was able to get the formatting of the page how I wanted it. The problem is that the functionality has been "improved" to offer extra features, but Microsoft have also changed the simplest, default ways of doing things. Or extra pop-up icons and dialogue boxes appear as you type, offering you help that you don't want to carry out tasks that you weren't intending to perform. After a few months using it, I've got to say that I'm not impressed with Office 2003 at all. Again, it's bloated, fat software that's too clever for its own good. Floating toolbars? Just give me the toolbars I'm used to and I'll be happy. Smart tags? Turned 'em off. Smart clipboard? Ditto.

To return to the original subject: there are people like me out there who write about a company's products, both good and bad. Companies are beginning to notice and are trying to repair damaged reputations by sending out press releases to bloggers, for goodness sake. If you've read this blog for long you'll know that if I've formed an opinion about a product, I'll write about it here. And if I have a negative experience with a product or company, occasionally I'll mention that too. I don't expect anything to happen about it, because I haven't got a huge readership. Even if I did provoke a reaction, what good is a press release full of waffle? I'd rather have a product that did what it was supposed to in the first place. When are companies going to learn that, I wonder?

And if I mention that I'm currently at the point where I will never ever buy another Mercedes ever again because of my experiences in trying to get an oil leak fixed, and somebody doing a search for quotes on Mercedes reliability or Mercedes customer service comes across this blog, they'll get a very simple message - find yourself a different brand of car. And that makes me feel just a tiny bit better.


The language of the press release really seems to pervade the country at the moment. I sat down yesterday morning to watch the BBC's Countryfile programme - it's a bit of an English tradition, addressing rural issues and (the best bit, as far as I'm concerned) giving an extended weather forecast for the week ahead. It's usually a nice, calming programme and it's great to watch with a mug of coffee and a croissant or two. But yesterday it seemed like everyone on the programme was talking as if they'd just swallowed a marketing manual. There was musch discussion of "engaging with the public" and the like - and ironically, some of the worst phrases were being used by people from English Heritage who were trying to preserve skills and crafts that are in danger of dying out!

I don't know if it was just the fact that I hadn't had a particularly good night's sleep, but I found the use of such unnecessary and contrived language to be profoundly jarring in the context of a programme like Countryfile. Still, I had to laugh when I realised that just about the only person other than John Craven who spoke normal English on the programme was a man being interviewed about avian flu - and he was from the Netherlands.


I've been out and about a fair bit this weekend. Yesterday I went along to the Flickl exhibition in Bristol and had a great time. I met a lot of very enthusiastic, creative people who love photography and learnt quite a bit about taking good pictures which I can't wait to put into practice. There were some stunning pictures there, too. The exhibition is on at the Create Centre in Bristol until March 31st and it's well worth a visit.

Afterwards I was suitably inspired, so I went for a walk around Bristol Harbour and took some pictures - they'll be appearing in my Flickr photostream over the next week or so. Eventually the cold wind got the better of me and I headed back to the car and home. Today, though, I've been out with the camera again: it's still cold, but it's been a glorious day here and there isn't a cloud in the sky. So far this weekend I've taken a hundred and thirty three pictures, which is more than I used to take in a year!


For the past few years I've been using a software package called Smart FTP to upload my webpages to Demon's server. When I first started using it, it was a nice, quick, streamlined application that was a joy to use. Unfortunately it's been getting more and more bloated and unweildy with every new version, and this afternoon I installed the latest build of version 2. Oh dear. The interface has now been "improved" so much that I couldn't figure out how to get it to do what I needed it to. It was so bad, and such a pain to use that after a few minutes of fruitless clicking on window tabs, buttons, and pointless extra toolbars that I couldn't get rid of, I gave up and deleted it.

My problems with the new and improved version of Smart FTP are a perfect example of Hutber's Law, which states that, as far as the customer is concerned:

"Improvement" means deterioration.

It's amazing how many software companies fall victim to this. They start out with something great and then gradually ruin it - driving their users away in the process. That's exactly what's happened to me, after all: so I'm now using Filezilla, which I figured out how to use in about five seconds flat. It's got a simple, clean interface and does exactly what I want it to. Nice.


I suspect no thought at all went into the construction of the bike lanes shown in these pictures. It looks like local councils around the world expect cyclists to negotiate trees, phone boxes, flowerbeds, or parked vehicles...


Wow - a couple of computer enthusiasts known only as nerf and blanka have won the Windows XP on Mac competition, getting an Intel-chipped Apple Mac with one partition running OSX to function happily with another partition containing a workable copy of Windows XP. Provided that you know what you're doing, it doesn't actually seem to be that hard to do, either. As the BBC reports, even two weeks ago Apple were saying they didn't think it could be done. Perhaps the long-running wars between the more extreme enthusiasts of each platform might finally be drawing to a close. Who knows?

Oh, and the photos of the Mac used in the project are up on Flickr, too. Well, we had to mention Flickr somewhere...


Not much to say today because I've been too busy playing with this. Although I have to say that I'm actually more impressed with this gadget.

Just so you know.

One of my first contacts on Flickr was the broadcaster Dave Gorman (of Are You Dave Gorman fame). He writes in the Guardian today about how much fun the photo sharing website Flickr is and I absolutely couldn't agree more with what he says.

Today I discovered that some of Bristol's own Flickr contributors will be putting on an exhibition of their pictures at the Create Centre, starting this Saturday. If you're around, I might see you there.


The M4 Project have cracked their second wartime message encrypted using an Enigma machine. The content of this one isn't particularly exciting. It turns out to contain the status report from a submarine in the Atlantic Ocean. That leaves one remaining message; I wonder how long it'll take before that too falls to the massed computing power of dozens of home PCs...


Sony have delayed the release of the Playstation 3 until November because of problems with copy protection relating to the Blu-Ray DVD format that they're using for software. Hmm, Sony getting behind the introduction of a new video format and then encountering problems with it. Now where have I heard that before? I don't think I'll be buying a high definition DVD player for a good few years yet. Let me know who's won when the dust dies down.


The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now stands at 381 parts per million, the highest level in 650,000 years. What I find more worrying is that last year saw one the largest rises in history - and according to one scientist the BBC spoke to, the rate at which the rise is taking place is accelerating, despite all the talk by governments about reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change.

So what are we doing to stop this? Well, here in Britain, we're closing four of the research centres that investigate climate change, for one thing. Are you going to tell me that's a sane and rational response?


I have a nice telly, even if I can't watch DVDs on it at the moment. I've had it for five years or so and I hope it'll last me a good few years yet. But when I do get round to replacing it, I'm going to be confronted with technology that has rather left the humble cathode ray tube behind (in all respects except for picture quality, judging by examples I've seen in local consumer electronics showrooms). And things are going to get even sillier. Would you put a 102 inch plasma television in your living room? Would you have space, for one thing: that's eight and a half feet, or just over two and a half metres!


The Guardian is reporting today that ASDA are taking the orange-coloured drink Sunny D off their shelves. But the article makes interesting reading for another reason: it seems that some sectors of the food industry are struggling, because people have actually started to change their eating habits and buy healthier food. Companies making biscuits, pizzas and fizzy drinks are seeing a big drop in sales. After doing quite a bit of cooking over the weekend and realising how much better stuff tastes when you've made it yourself, I have to say that I don't feel in the least bit sorry for them.


The Guardian's front page today carries an illustration from a patent application made in the 1970s by British Rail, and suddenly the story's all over the place - because the patent was for a nuclear powered flying saucer. But I read about this years ago - there is absolutely no way that this has just "come to light" as the BBC states. In fact, I suspect it must be a slow news day to drive folks to dig up a story this old: the New Scientist even reviewed a book about the thing back in 1997.

I remember being disappointed the first time I saw information about the design when I read that that BR's patent assumed the thing would be powered by a fusion reactor. Because, of course, while folks were saying we'd have nuclear fusion "real soon now" back in the 1970s, they're still saying it today. BR wasn't known for its access to cutting-edge technology, either: this dates from about the time of the Advanced Passenger Train, after all.

In fact, from the 1950s onwards every man and his dog appeared to have their own design for a flying saucer. You could even build one at home: I've still got a copy of the Eagle Book of Spacecraft by the one and only Ray Malmström which has plans for a control-line version powered by a glo-plug engine, together with lots of Jetex-powered models, and the twins bought me a rather spiffy electrically powered saucer last year that you can fly in the living room. So why BR's design ended up on the front page of a national newspaper this morning is a bigger mystery than the story itself...


And while we're talking about flying saucers, have you looked at Google's logo today? It looks like they've been caught up in the excitement over the MRO's successful arrival at Mars - because in addition to google Earth and Google Moon there's now Google Mars!


The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is safely in orbit around Mars. It'll be a few months before it achieves its final orbit, but at the moment things are looking good.


Despite the signs of spring last week, the weather in the UK turned distinctly wintry over the weekend. It was snowing when I got up this morning, although it's all melted now. Further north, things have been quite bad, with bridges and airports closed in Scotland and a few accidents in Wales. I went out for a walk to take a few photos, but it was a bit on the chilly side and I was back home in less than an hour to thaw out.


It's been one of those weeks. The car's off the road until I can get it to the garage next week and have the front cover and head gasket fixed. That's going to be expensive...

Then on Thursday night I sat down to watch the Wallace and Gromit movie; all was fine until I got to the end credits, at which point my DVD player made a sharp crackling noise and switched itself off. After changing the fuse, I got the disk out, but the player's rather definitely given up the ghost. It's had pretty heavy use, as I use it to play CDs in the living room, but it was only six years old so I was rather disappointed. Still, it's been rather left behind by changes in technology - it didn't play MP3 files, VCDs, CD-Rs or anything like that. I haven't decided what I'm going to get as a replacement, but players these days do much more than just play DVDs, so I shouldn't have too much trouble finding a new player that does the job.


The Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter is due to arrive at Mars this evening. By 22:16 GMT NASA should know whether or not it's managed to enter orbit successfully, so keep your fingers crossed. The ship is carrying the most powerful camera ever sent to Mars - in fact it's the most powerful used on any planetary mission - giving it the ability to resolve objects on the surface about a metre across. That means that it should allow us to find out exactly what happened to earlier spacecraft such as Beagle 2 or the Mars Polar Lander.

However, the main mission of the MRO is to study water on Mars: how much is there, and where are the largest amounts? Knowing the answers to those questions would make a big difference to any plans for a manned mission at some time in the future. After all, if there's water waiting for you when you arrive, you don't need to bring as much with you.


At the moment my knees are making clicking noises every time I walk up and down stairs, which might have something to do with the weather, but which is probably a result of me spending far too much of my time sitting in front of a computer screen. And not just at work: since I got broadband, I've noticed that I have an increasing tendency to switch off the rubbish on the telly and go and do a spot of web surfing instead.

Today it seems, I'm in the majority: people are actually spending more time online than they are watching television. Unfortunately, this new behaviour is every bit as sedentary as being a couch potato. Roll on the longer evenings (after all, the clocks go forwards in a couple of weeks) and the opportunity to get out on the bike for a bit of exercise and fresh air.


Barring the occasional spot of drizzle, today is the first day of this year where I've seen proper rain. It has been a very dry winter; they're already talking about a drought, and summer is months away. This week I noticed that the humidity in the room where I'm typing this has been down to 22% compared with its more normal value around 40%. It's creeping back up now, as I've got the windows open.

And that's the weird thing about Britain - a fair number of people find this sort of talk interesting. Where else in the world could you find such a fascination with the weather?


Well, maybe not. It's been thought for a long time that the Sun has a considerable influence on our climate. For instance, the little ice age of 1350 to 1750 coincided with a period of almost no sunspot activity on the sun. If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll have seen several stories about solar flares knocking out communications satellites or power grids, you'll know that solar flares are also linked to sunspot activity, and you'll be aware that sunspots come and go in a cycle that takes about 11 years to complete. We're round about solar minimum at the moment, so things will start to get interesting again in a few years.

So when I read that America's National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has just announced its predictions for sunspot activity during the next solar cycle, I was very interested. It doesn't look good, though: they're predicting that the next cycle will be 30 to 50% stronger than the last one - which, you'll remember, brought us some of the largest solar flares ever recorded. It's at times like this that Arthur C. Clarke's uncanny prescience can become a bit worrying, even if he denies it himself.


One of the folks in the office asked me for my predictions for the Oscars last week (she was entering a competition) and I said I reckoned Ang Lee would get best director for Brokeback Mountain, Philip Seymour Hoffman had to get best actor for his performance in Capote, and I rather suspected that Reese Witherspoon would win best actress for her performance in Walk The Line. I was rather surprised this morning to find out I'd got all three right. It was nice to see Aardman winning another Oscar for their Wallace and Gromit movie, too - but even nicer was finding out that Wallace himself, Peter Sallis, was at the ceremony and got a mention from Nick Park.


As you might already have seen over at Slashdot, Aviation Week's story about a heavily classified and recently cancelled alternative to the Space Shuttle called Blackstar that was allegedly operational for years has generated quite a lot of interest (and the traditional squabbling, of course).

There's no guarantee the story's true, of course, but it's an interesting possibility.


The folks at Flagrantdisregard continue to come up with new toys to add to the Flickr tools collection. The latest one I've discovered is a list of the Top Digital Cameras used to create photographs posted to the site, based on a sampling of the EXIF data from photographs they've received. The most popular camera, according to the list, is the Nikon D70.


The camera I've got, the Canon EOS350D, appears in eighth place. It's an almost exact match for the Nikon in terms of specifications and performance. However, unlike the Nikon, it's given different names in different markets and in the US, it's known as the Digital Rebel XT. Yes, you've guessed it - it has a separate listing in the chart, and it appears at number four. With no figures to show exactly how far in front the Nikon is, there's a fair chance it's not actually number one. Unless, perhaps, you add the figure for the D70 together with the figure for its successor, the D70s...

There are many things on the Internet that look pretty straightforward at first glance, but they become considerably more complicated when you actually start learning about what's involved and finding out things that aren't obvious to start with. Just like life, really.


The posting of photographs edited to look like miniatures continues unabated on Flickr. I'm amazed how many I've seen this week, and some of them are pretty good. But Toronto photoblogger Sam Javanrouh of [daily dose of imagery] fame has topped them all by posting an amazing photograph which really is a model. I love it!


The heads of five space agencies - Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States - have been meeting in Florida to discuss the fate of the International Space Station. The latest news is that it'll be finished in 2010 and there'll be enough of it in orbit by 2009 to support a six-man crew. But wait, I hear you ask. Doesn't that assume that, in the intervening four years there won't be any other problems with the Space Shuttle? Well yes, that would a pretty big assumption - but the meeting also affirmed the agencies' plan to use "a combination of transportation systems provided by Europe, Japan, Russia, and the United States" to assist completion, so it may not be as big a risk as it first appears. Although how you'd get something like Japan's Kibo module to the Station without the Shuttle is an interesting challenge...


Author and all-round creative genius Neil Gaiman writes about comics, movies and his new film Mirrormask in the Guardian today. Well, it's a new film over here; while it opens in UK cinemas today, in the States it's been, gone and come out on DVD. I don't care - it looks amazing.

In the article, Gaiman describes talking to the director Robert Zemeckis about how worried he was that a scene he'd written for their upcoming collaboration of a movie of the epic poem Beowulf would be too expensive to film. Don't worry, said Zemeckis: "There is nothing you could write that will cost me more than a million dollars a minute to film." Now there's a challenge.


A colleague and I have recently noticed an increasing tendency by the writers of press releases to employ interesting units of measurement when describing things, presumably in an attempt to situate products and events in real life for people who don't know what a ruler is or who have never had to lift a sack of cement. After all, how many times have you seen something described in terms of London buses?

While we applaud the enthusiastic press officers in Lancaster whose examples were couched in terms of millions of London buses (we've decided that there should be a unit of measurement called the Megaroutemaster), their uncontrolled use of other equivalents such as banana skins is just one symptom of a problem that's been brewing for years. Things are getting silly.

We've been monitoring the newsletters that we receive in the office for examples of these metaphorical units of measurement, and have decided that, despite previous efforts to impose order, some form of standardisation is urgently needed to avoid confusion. As a tribute to the recently-retired icon of London tourism, the system we have developed will henceforth be known as the Standard Routemaster Units system (the SRU system). Apart from celebrating the humble Routemaster, we propose that the following selection of units should be adopted:

You can find a full list of approved SRU units on the SRU System reference page provided for your convenience.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and use them!


According to a report on the BBC's website today, approximately 20% of Americans questioned for an opinion poll believed that one of the basic rights enshrined in the U.S. constitution is the right to own a pet. The same poll revealed that most people knew more about the television series The Simpsons than they did about the content of the constitution's first amendment.


As you can see from the badge at the top of this page, I'm a keen Flickr user. I signed up last year, and I try to post something every week (in fact at the moment I'm posting stuff every day). I love it, and the people who make up its community are probably the most supportive, creative and just plain nice bunch of folks I've ever come across. But as I get more used to the ebb and flow of huge numbers of photographs, I'm becoming aware of how frequently an original idea will spread through Flickr. It happens like wildfire - with so many users you see more and more examples until you're sick of the sight of it.

For example, after seeing it flagged on a couple of days ago, I read a tutorial on how to make a photograph of a real landscape look like it's a model. Browsing Flickr's explore page today, it seems like at least one picture in every nine has used the technique given in the tutorial.

Other Flickr memes I've noticed recently include coloured pens or pencils, eyes in close-up, dogs' noses and people jumping in the air on beaches.

Will you spot the next up-and-coming Flickr meme? My money's on pregnant women.